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California fires: Wineries in Santa Cruz under threat

As fires burn across many Californian counties, at least five wineries in Santa Cruz are at risk as a mountain blaze grows to cover an area of 48,000 acres.

Image: Big Basin Estate. The caption reads: “Last view before evacuating last night. Our vineyards could end up being an important firebreak, so hopefully they defend our winery. We just finished bottling 1,500 cases too, all stored in the winery with many full barrels.”

Known collectively as the CZU August Lightning Complex, fires are currently spreading across the counties of Santa Cruz and San Mateo. Flames have destroyed 50 structures and are believed to have caused widespread damage to California’s first state park, Big Basin, known for its redwood forest.

Approximately 48,000 residents of San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties have been evacuated due to the fires.

In a statement sent to Mercury News, Marcella Thompkins, spokesperson for Wines of the Santa Cruz Mountains, said that five wineries in the San Lorenzo Valley, Bonny Doon and Woodside/Skyline AVAs were in or near evacuation zones. These include Big Basin Estate Vineyards & Winery, Beauregard Vineyards, McHenry Vineyard, Saison Winery and Pescadero Creek Vineyard.

Posting on social media on Thursday evening (20 August), Big Basin Estate confirmed that it had been evacuated, but said that so far its property had evaded the blaze.

Owner Bradley Brown wrote: “It is really tragic and scary what is happening to the Santa Cruz Mountains. The fire is totally out of control and burning towards the San Lorenzo Valley and Santa Cruz. Still no fire on our property, but there is fire down Memory Lane, one lower China Grade Road, and it is burning on Hill House with spot fires starting on Pinecrest. We just attempted to get back and saw fire after turning onto Pinecrest and aborted our attempt. There are no attempts being made to control the fire up that way.”

He said that with the dense smoke, there is a chance the estate will be unable to use its fruit from this vintage.

“Maybe the winery will miraculously survive. If not, we will rebuild a better one,” he said.

Beauregard Vineyards in Bonny Doon also posted on social media that it had been evacuated.

Founder of Bonny Doon Vineyards, Randall Grahm, tweeted that he was preparing for evacuation after a mandatory order was given to the University of California Santa Cruz near his home.

Elsewhere the so-called LNU Lightning Complex, which includes the Hennessey fire, now covers 215,000 acres and is 0% contained. Napa County Sheriff’s Office have confirmed that four people have been killed in the LNU fires, three from the same household. The other victim died in Solano county.

A pilot who was helping to fight fires in western Fresno county also died when his helicopter crashed.

Burning across Napa, the Hennessey fire now covers an area of 192,000 acres, almost doubling in size in one day. According to the latest data, it appears to be moving away from the major wine-growing areas.

It is believed to have caused some damage to the Brown Estate, Somerston Estate and Nichelini Vineyards, but vines and major winery buildings are all thought to be untouched.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, a fire broke out yesterday afternoon north of Oakville near the Robert Mondavi Winery. Fire officials and air support planes were called to the area just after 2:30pm local time. Christopher Barefoot, vice president of public relations at Opus One Winery, confirmed to the news site that fire retardant was dropped to stop the flames. Nickel & Nickel winery was forced to evacuate as a precaution. The fire was quickly extinguished.

A statement from Napa Valley Vintners said that it was hopeful that the eastern hills of Napa “have been through the worst of it”.

“While not contained, the endless work that first responders and fire crews have done since Monday morning no doubt saved countless structures and lives,” the statement continued. “The photos and videos coming out of the Berryessa area in the northeast corner of our county are heartbreaking, and our community is turning our attention to helping those affected. And indeed, many of our friends and family in the Vaca Mountains on the east side are still evacuated.”

The industry group confirmed the majority of the producers in the region are ready for harvest and have been able to “safely move forward with their socially-distanced harvest”.

“Crush pads are seeing bins come in, crews are working hard early in the mornings, and winemakers are feeling optimistic about the potential that this year holds,” the group added.

In Sonoma the Walbridge fire, near Healdsburg, and the Meyers fire, north of Jenner, continue to rage, covering 20,000 acres and 3,000 acres respectively. Neither fire is contained.

Sparkling wine specialist Korbel, Gary Farrell Vineyards and Fort Ross Vineyard are among the producers in the evacuation zone. Gracianna Winery in the Russian River Valley said the property and team remain safe, but that it had been forced to evacuate.

“After waiting as long as possible, Trini and Lisa safely evacuated late Tuesday night and are staying with family in Healdsburg,” a statement read. “We are grateful to report that our friends, neighbors and colleagues along Westside Road continue to be safe. Trini, Lisa and the whole Gracianna Winery team are closely watching the situation. According to Forestville fire chief Dave Franceschi, the department wants to set up a fire line at Sweetwater Road which is a mere half-mile from the winery.”

Elsewhere, another group of fires, collectively known as the SCU Lightning Complex are burning across parts of Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Joaquin, and Stanislaus counties. The 20 separate fires cover a total area of 157,475 acres and are 5% contained, according to the latest data from Cal Fire.

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